Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Prosecute White House Propaganda Crimes

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Free Press today called upon Congress and the Justice Department to prosecute those in the Bush administration who violated federal laws by buying favorable news coverage of the president's policies.

Last week an official government investigation determined that the Bush Administration broke the law when it used taxpayer dollars to disseminate “covert propaganda” in advance of the 2004 elections. Free Press president Robert McChesney wrote to the organization’s 220,000 activists asking them to sign a letter urging the Congress and the Justice Department “to prosecute these crimes to the fullest extent of the law.”

(Read MediaCitizen's full analysis of these propaganda crimes)

This White House has a knack for evading prosecution. The only way for justice to be served is for thousands to stand up and demand that charges stick against an administration that has set aside more than a quarter billion dollars to push propaganda on the public.

In a report released on Sept. 30, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the administration illegally used taxpayer dollars to fund a covert propaganda campaign, funneling money to commentator Armstrong Williams to tout Bush's education policies and hiring a public relations company to produce video news releases (VNRs) analyze media perceptions of the Republican Party. The investigation also dug up other instances of abuse, including a previously undisclosed case in which the Bush administration commissioned a newspaper article that praised the White House's role in promoting science education.

Free Press will deliver all letters to the leaders of the Judiciary and Appropriations Committees and Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez. The organization will continue to exert public pressure for full public disclosure of all White House publicity expenditures using taxpayer funds.

Throughout the year, Free Press has mobilized citizens to put a stop to government propaganda. In April, the media reform organizations mobilized more than 40,000 concerned citizens to urge the FCC to launch an investigation into the widespread use of government-sponsored VNRs. Within weeks the agency issued a public notice citing the public outcry and calling on all broadcasters and cable outlets to disclose the origin of VNRs used on their programs.

GAO and the Justice Department, the administration's controlling legal authority, have not seen eye to eye on covert propaganda in the past, specifically on the issue of unidentified packaged video news releases. GAO says VNRs are illegal; Justice says the releases are not, so long as they are fact-based. Alberto Gonzalez's Justice Department appears unwilling to take the next step: a criminal investigation into the administration’s use of millions of taxpayer dollars to cloak its political agenda as news and push it upon unsuspecting Americans.

Without popular dissent, an emboldened White House will continue to throw up obstacles to full disclosure. It is now up to the public to pressure our government to enforce the law and stop propaganda crimes.

To join the call for White House prosecution, visit Free Press.

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